Warren Hendrian was disappointed to be meeting Speaker Glick at the off-Beltway McDonald's. He'd been hoping she'd agree to a new little place in Georgetown he'd been wanting to try, but she vetoed that without hesitation.
“Warren dear, we don't want to be recognized, do we? I've been wanting to try Hoolio's, too, the brisket is supposed to be devine, but not today...” Her trademark nonstop ramble rambled on oblivious of Hendrian's efforts to break in until he finally gave in.
“You're right, Edie. McDonald's it is,” he said, trying to sound enthusiastic. He knew better than to try to argue with “Satin Edie”, as she was known by allies and adversaries and in the press corps, because she loved to argue, rarely conceded a point and never, in her mind anyway, lost. Oddly, she never came across as stubborn. A key to her political success was an uncanny knack for making others feel that she agreed with them, when, in fact, she had subtly persuaded them to agree with her. In this instance, Warren Hendrian knew she was right, yet he secretly felt he'd be in no danger of having anyone remember him were an investigation to be conducted into the outrageous behavior of Vice President Quentin Kudlow. That is, assuming Edie could manage to get a dose of Vulcana into the fatuous, bumbling former senator from Virginia.
It was Ruth's idea to drug Kudlow. Might have been a hard sell even for Ruth, herself no slouch in the persuasion game, had it not been for one irresistible inducement: the scheme, mad as it seemed at first blush, could vault Speaker Glick into the seat she'd most coveted as far back as she could remember.
“You're mad, Ruth! What on earth have you been smoking?”
“In normal times...Ha! Let me start again. These are the times that try...Nah. Yikes, Edie, WACKO's setting that pompous asshole up to move in after they take Morowitz out. It's a coup in the making, pure and simple...”
“OK, sure. I agree Morowitz is shrinking by the day – by the hour – but you're not suggesting they're actually going to...kill him, are you?
“They won't have to, Edie, although I certainly wouldn't put it past them. All they'll need is for Morowitz somehow to be declared incompetent. They could drug him so he's incoherent in, say, a press conference or some other public appearance. Once the folks in the white coats tote him away, that's all she wrote for Good King Geoff.”
“Jesus, Ruth. Weak Sister Geoff, I know. But, you know, I like the guy? He really does have a good heart.”
“He does. But we both know a good heart doesn't get you much in politics. Not in the bigs, anyway.”
“Not in the littles, either. Doesn't say much for us, does it, kiddo?”
They smiled at their smart phones. Ruth's face was tinged with sadness; Glick's, less scrutable.
Ruth had decided not to share her knowledge of the president's plan to undergo “Vulcana therapy” with live telecast coverage. It wasn't a matter of trust, despite the fierce rivalry between them when the House Speaker and Ruth butted heads for the presidential nomination before Ruth's first term. There had never been a public display of animosity between them, and Glick had been a loyal supporter of Ruth's programs as president. Her opposition to Morowitz's legislation, while effective, wasn't enough in a season of growing dissatisfaction with incumbents in general to keep her own influence from sliding along with the president's diminishing popularity. And although her decline was not as noticeable as the president's, Glick knew she was probably serving her last term as speaker, and possibly as a member of Congress.
“It's this damned rider on the...”
“I know. I know. It's unconstitutional as hell. You can't outlaw something before you can prove it exists. And I know Morowitz says he'll veto it, and that's got WACKO mad as hell and they figure if Geoff is out dumbo Kudlow will sign whatever they tell him to sign. I know, Ruth. The whole thing stinks.”
“Can't you kill it in committee?”
“Too late. Senate's already passed it and I can't get the votes to kill it on our side. Still two or three holdouts, but I ain't holding my breath.”
“Edie, this is why we need to take Kudlow out of the game. We simply can't take the chance.”
“You saying something's gonna happen to the president?”
“If he won't change his mind on that veto, you know WACKO will make something happen. It's in the air. I can feel it.”
“I know. Me, too.”
“Yes, Ruth, I'm in. Tell me what you want me to do.”
Despite wearing faded jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, his “dog-walking” outfit, Hendrian entered the McDonald's with the awkward hesitancy of a virgin arriving at her first college toga party. Confused at the counter after looking around and not seeing the Speaker, and realizing had no idea what or how to order, he considered leaving and waiting in his car. The woman assaulted him as he turned toward the door. Dowdy and shapeless in drab, baggy clothes, she grabbed his arm, leaned in and began mumbling something he didn't understand other than the name “Billy”. He tried to pull his arm free but she had a good grip.
“I'm sorry, ma'am, you're mistaken. My name's not Billy.” He tugged again but she pulled him closer and said, louder, “Billy! It's Gertrude!” She leaned further, smiling widely, and whispered, “Warren! Act like you're glad to see me!”
“Gertrude! From book club! We've missed you!”
“Uh, oh hi, Gertrude, of course. Sorry, I didn't expect to see you here. Your hair is different. How are you?”
Glick took complete charge, keeping up a spirited chatter of nonsense in an unfamiliar voice low enough not to attract attention from all but the several people ahead of and behind them waiting to order or pick up. She sensed he had no idea what to order, so she made a fuss about how she always ordered the Big Mac whenever she came here because, “there's just no other sandwich like it”. Nodding her head when she said this, Hendrian found himself nodding as well, and he ordered a Big Mac when they reached the counter.
The counter clerk broke his little spell of confidence when she asked, “Would you like the meal?”
“Yes, sir, it comes with medium fries and a drink. Five sixty-nine.” Hendrian turned to Glick. His face had gone slack with helplessness. She smiled and nodded. He turned back to the clerk, face transformed, and opted for the meal deal. After Glick ordered, the clerk, looking from one to the other, asked if they were together.
“Yes, ma'am,” Hendrian said, buoyed again with confidence. He was smiling on his own as they carried their trays to a table. They picked one next to a group of jabbering teens. “They wouldn't recognize me if they saw my real hair and I wore one of my campaign suits with my name tag,” Glick said.
“That's a wig?”
“Warren! I mean Billy. Have you ever seen me in a ponytail? Or with auburn hair? Tch tch tch...”
Glick's cheerful persistence had worn down Hendrian's inhibitions by the time he was halfway through his Big Mac, which he clearly enjoyed. He began to feel frisky with their apparent success at spycraft. He reached into pocket of his sweatshirt and pulled out what looked like a paper napkin folded to the size of a deck of cards. He set it between them, caught her eye and dipped his head toward it. Glick winked and continued eating. She made a show of wiping her mouth with one of the restaurant's napkins and placed it over Hendrian's. He stifled a giggle.
“Two of 'em in there,” he said, softly, holding up two fingers in case she hadn't heard him over the din from the next table. He nodded at the napkin again. “One's a capsule. It'll dissolve instantly in a cup of coffee. No odor, no taste. The other one is for a cold drink. It's like one of those cartridges for dogs, to get rid of fleas? You pull the cap off and push the pin down to break the seal. Then you pull the pin out and squirt the fluid out the little hole.”
Glick nodded solemnly and closed her hand over the two napkins. Hendrian saw her place her hand into a pocket of her sweater as they stood to leave. It was empty when she reached out to touch his arm.
“What a pleasant coincidence, Billy. We should bump into each other like this more often. See you at book club?” Hendrian nodded. “I'll try,” he said. “Good seeing you, uh...Gwen...” Panic flashed in his face.
Glick gently shook her head and patted his arm. “Thanks, Warren,” she said in her natural voice. He gaped in befuddlement as she headed out the door. No sign of her when he reached his car moments later.